Last night I watched the Fox News channel for a change. First the O’Reilly Factor and then Hannity. My political views don’t line up very well with this tv-channel but that’s why I like to watch once in a while: to see how the news is presented and interpreted on the other side.
Both shows mostly covered Egypt of course. O’Reilly started off with a diatribe against the Al-Jazeera news channel. He quoted and played several short clips to underscore his opinion that Al-Jazeera is anti-American, anti-semitic and strongly in support of islam extremism. One of his two guest pointed out that all these statements and views were from guests on Al-Jazeera programs not editorial comments. That distinction was lost on Bill O’Reilly.
He then went on to throw in “the far left” who are also anti-American, anti-semitic and either murderers or supporters of murder – that last part was not clear. I never understand the “anti-American”-label. What is anti-American? To me when it gets thrown into a political conversation it seems to stand for “I don’t like your opinion but I don’t know why. I am not able to articulate any rational counter arguments and I am embarrassed about that. Please accept my apology.”
During both shows there were moments when a guest would look with some bewilderment at the host like Tamara Holder on Hannity exclaiming “What’s up with you?”. You don’t see often that interviewees question the wherewithal of the interviewer. The role of guests on the O’Reilly Factor is mystifying. He didn’t let Alan Colmes speak or listen to him. Monica Crowley’s role seemed to be to agree with whatever O’Reilly was saying.
What surprised me was that Bill O’Reilly was quite enamored of Obama with regards to Egypt. Hannity not so.
Which brings me to the second topic of this blog post: American foreign policy. While I found Hannity simplistic in his view on Egypt – Tamara Holder rightly pointing out that’s not about the Muslim Brotherhood – also CNN has been stumbling about. Last Friday Wolf Blitzer asked the Egyptian ambassador to the US if Mubarak should have waited addressing the Egyptian people until after he had spoken with Obama. Really? The head of another sovereign nation should first consult with the US president before speaking to his/her own people!?
An example of where the US often goes wrong in foreign policy: it is not about the US. It is about the Egyptian people determining their destiny. This need to make everything about the US is to me one of the reasons why – especially in the Middle East and Asia – public opinion of the US is low. By inserting yourself into the debate and doing so with a self-centric view you set yourself up to be used as scape goat and bogeyman. And by inserting yourself into the problem, you become part of the problem.
It’s a no-win situation. There was no reason last Friday for the president of the USA to go on live television and make a statement. And there certainly was no reason to do so again last night. But if you do you must pick a side. With Obama’s speech last night, beautiful as the sentences were, he tried to stay in the middle of the road. This makes everyone directly involved in the crisis unhappy and it gives whoever comes out on top ammunition to steer up criticism of the US. If Mubarak manages to hold out he may well lean more towards the islamic extreme in response to the US not publicly supporting him. If the Muslim Brotherhood do win then they’ll use the speech to claim that the US tried to keep Mubarak in power and is against the people.
No other leader (Merkel, Cameron, Medvedev, Sarkozy) went on national television as far as I know. Think about it. Both CNN and Fox News anchors saying something like: “The world is waiting to hear the American position.” No, it isn’t.
There’s a high risk again of coming out at the wrong side of history. If you must insert yourself into a situation you need to pick sides. As here it seems very likely that Mubarak’s time is up then, well, call publicly for his resignation if you do have that urge to go on stage. Otherwise there’s a high risk of repeating history: supporting the losing team for much too long (the Shah of Iran). And if you insert yourself you become responsible for the outcome. At the start of the 2nd Gulf War, George Bush proclaimed that the US is not into nation building. Well, if you tear a country apart then yes you are, you’ll have to be.
How to do it right? Ronald Reagan’s appeal to Gorbachev: “Tear down this wall.”
After his arrest Saddam Hussein said during interrogations that his main worry was Iran; the US wasn’t on his radar very much. Which illustrates the pitfalls of a sell-centric view of the international world.
And that brings me back to Fox News and Al-Jazeera. O’Reilly implied that a network like Al-Jazeera should be banned because of their viewpoints. On the contrary, if that network’s opinions are really anti-American and so on then that is all the more reason to let them broadcast and watch them: to understand how others are viewing the US and acting upon, using whatever the US says or does.